Winter Solstice in a Warm Garden


December 22, 2011, Washington, DC: When we moved to Capitol Hill last year, we made a point to become reacquainted with the city's museums and landmarks. They were so close, so full of history, art and ideas, and so something we'd never bothered to do as locals in Washington. We hadn't set foot in many of them since our schools' requisite DC field trips in junior high school. And so on cold winter mornings last winter, we began heading down the Hill with warm cups of coffee into these spaces and places we'd taken for granted. It's that time of year again to visit our nearby museums.

Today, on this first official day of winter, the US Botanic Garden is the place to be.

At the corner of 1st and Independence St. SW, the Botanic Garden is closest to home of the city's many free landmarks. And yet I'd never been before last winter, when at the insistence of visiting biologist friends, I finally stepped inside. All that I'd been missing amazed. Spring and summer is permanent here. Flowers sweat. Plants breathe. The smell and feel of the tropics overpowers whatever type of weather dominates the day outside. The air beneath those high glass ceilings is warm -- hot even, on a day like today. Mist rains down from sprinklers and creeps up through gaps in wooden bridges.

I'm here this time without the benefit of company that knows every plant in the room, but I'm not alone in choosing today to visit. In an entryway stuffed with poinsettas, children and their parents surround a train set winding its way around a tall Christmas tree. Visitors stroll the paths here on their hard-earned day off. It's packed here.

And still, it's the perfect place to take a breather. It's the perfect place to be reminded that we will get through this impending annual hibernation buoyed by visits to places that reinvigorate us. This morning, the US Botanic Garden is the ideal place to pause before racing daylight and resuming a sprint through the shortest day of the year. Here in this hot garden, we are reminded that no matter how much or how little we're able to pack in today before sunset, we will get there.

Yes, it will get far colder; it's pushing 60 today, after all. But in some ways, the worst is behind us. From here on out, the days will grow longer as we inch towards spring.